Last month, we wrote about the unimaginable cruelty inflicted on a 15-year-old Blue Springs boy whom a bunch of junior bullies seemed determined to hound into committing suicide, just as his closest friend had.
We naturally thought of that boy, Ryker Lewis, who took his own life in 2014, in light of last week’s sentencing of Michelle Carter. The young Massachusetts woman, at 17, had just as repeatedly and just as successfully urged an 18-year-old friend to kill himself.
Should the Blue Springs School District be held civilly responsible in Ryker’s death? If officials there were as negligent as his mother has alleged in her lawsuit, yes.
And should a struggling teenager like Carter be held criminally responsible in the death of another struggling teenager? Under the circumstances, yes again.
Carter, who has been ordered to serve 15 months in jail for involuntary manslaughter, admitted telling her friend Conrad Roy III to “get back in the truck” he’d jumped out of in fear in the middle of poisoning himself with carbon monoxide.
Months later, Carter seemed to blame herself in a text to a friend.
“Sam his death is my fault, like honestly I could have stopped him,” she wrote. “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the car because it was working and he got scared.”
Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz rightly called the case “a tragedy for two families,” and we certainly feel for Carter, who can never take back her dozens of ghoulish text messages like this one: “The time is right and you are ready … just do it babe.”
“You can’t think about it. You just have to do it,” Carter taunted Roy in another. “You said you were gonna do it. Like I don’t get why you aren’t.”
Not surprisingly, Carter was troubled, too — suffering from depression and anorexia, her lawyer told the court. That healthy people don’t do what she did is obvious.
But cases like this aren’t unheard of, unfortunately, and Carter also has to be held to account.
The sentence — 15 months in a detention center rather than a prison, and five years of probation — seems humane and reasonable, taking both her actions and her youth into account.
She is appealing the verdict, and her lawyer argues that Carter’s messages were regrettable but protected by the First Amendment.
Fans of free speech that we are, there are limits on even that freedom, as on all others. And such a direct intervention — when he told her he was afraid, and she told him during a phone conversation to get back in the truck — does seem to us to have tragically exceeded those limits.